SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. - Capping a week of strongly worded, intensely partisan jabs at president Clinton, Speaker Newt Gingrich used a weekend appearance in this Republican stronghold to invoke comparisons between Clinton's actions in office and the forces that led the Roman republic toward ruin. The ancient Roman Republic, was founded under the rule of law but was corrupted by foreign money, by personal ambition, and politics.
Although Gingrich did not explicitly equate the two, he made a
pointed transition from remarks about questionable campaign contributions and Clinton's instinct for self-protection to a recommendation
of several novels by Colleen McCullough about ancient Rome.
Speaker Gingrich spoke at a meeting of more than 6,000 people who had gathered in this Phoenix suburb for what Republicans had labeled a national town meeting.
As a result of the degredations of the Republic of ancient Rome, Gingrich said, "The fabric of the Republic collapsed." He then circled back to Clinton and ways that Clinton seemed to be withholding information about campaign finances and his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, a former White House intern.
"It is unconscionable for a President of the United States to be anything less than the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States,"
Gingrich said to applause on
Friday night. He added, "This is a
very sad and a very sober time."
The comments were vintage Gingrich, drawing on his affinities for
political vinegar and historical allusions. They not only echoed statements he had made earlier in the
week, but seemed to serve notice
that his attacks on what he clearly
perceives to be Clinton's weaknesses were no fickle, passing phase.
Gingrich vowed that he and
Senator Trent Lott, the majority
leader, would look into a recent report that the Administration's policy
on exporting space satellite technology to China may have helped China
or other countries develop nuclear
missiles. Administration officials
have said there were strict controls
to insure that sensitive information
was not disseminated.
Gingrich noted that one of the
companies that Clinton allowed
to export information was run by the
largest personal donor to the Democratic Party in 1997.
"We are committed in the next few
weeks, not months, not years, but the
next few weeks, at a national security level, to getting to the bottom of
the scale of this problem, because
this is a threat to the survival of the
United States," Gingrich said.
As considerable as his pique toward Clinton seemed to be,
Gingrich had plenty left for Democrats in general, and in his remarks
here and a speech earlier Friday at
Stanford University in Palo Alto,
Calif., Gingrich resurrected the
specter of the tax-and-spend liberal,
addicted to big government and aloof
from the average American. It was a
strategy that clearly anticipated the
fall Congressional elections and the
Republicans' interest in maintaining
a majority in Congress.
But Gingrich may have been
looking even beyond that. As he delineated his accomplishments and
his goals in front of voters far from
his home state of Georgia, it seemed
possible that Gingrich was giving a long-rumored Presidential candidacy a test spin.
It was telling that Gingrich
made almost as many barbed comments about Vice President Al Gore
as President Clinton, and that he
threw in a few choice words about
Representative Richard A. Gephardt
as well. Both Gore and Gephardt are potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Gingrich reiterated a number
of proposals for shrinking the Federal Government, including the possible elimination of some agencies.
The Department of Energy was first
on his list, although he said that the
Department of Commerce also deserved scrutiny.
In his appeal, expected to resonate
with party conservatives, Gingrich was echoing Representative
John R. Kasich of Ohio, the chairman
of the House Budget Committee. On
Tuesday, Kasich began selling a
plan to eliminate the Departments of
Energy and Commerce to find money for large tax cuts. A similar Republican plan died in the fierce budget battles of 1995 and 1996.
Gingrich advocated measures
to preserve Social Security well into
the future; more choice in health
care, particularly for the elderly; a
national goal that all first graders
learn to read and write, and that they
do so in English, and a renewed, all-out war against illegal drug use.
And Gingrich advocated major tax cuts and reforms. He stated
that he would like to see the current
tax code replaced with a flat tax or a
national sales tax, though he said
that such an effort would probably
have to await a Republican President, and that no American should
surrender more than 25 percent of
his or her income to taxation.
He said he would like to eliminate
the inheritance tax, which he called
immoral, and praised Republicans'
efforts to increase the per-child tax
credit, so that parents, not the Government, could have the extra money
to spend on their children. "The Clinton-Gore team believes you're too
stupid to take care of your own children," he said.
Gingrich's appearance at
Stanford happened to coincide with a
visit by the President to the San Jose,
Calif., area. Clinton, who is on a
fund-raising trip, and his wife, Hillary, were due on campus this weekend
to visit their daughter, Chelsea, who
is finishing her freshman year at
Gingrich spoke to about 110
professors, scholars and corporate
leaders gathered for a luncheon at
the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank on the Stanford campus. His demeanor was professorial
as he took them on an intellectual
tour that caromed past Confucius, de
Tocqueville, Marxism, Maoism,
Newtonian physics and the French
In Sun City, Gingrich was
more the firebrand, and he said he
was angered by the suggestion some
politicians made this week that Secret Service officers should not be
expected to testify in investigations
into the President's conduct.
"I can't tell you, as a historian,
how frightening I found the discussion," Gingrich said. "This is
nation of law. We, the people of the
United States, hire the Secret Service."
He then added, "The idea that anybody could have a loyalty that transcends their duty to the law is alien
to very concept of America."